Pope Urban II speech at Clermont, 1095, is arguably one of the most influential speeches of all times. It is the speech that fired up a whole nation to join together, even whilst parts of it were at war with each other, to fight against the perceived enemy of God, the Muslims; to fight for the Holy City, a city which it could be said they knew and cared little about until that moment at Clermont. This was a speech which was the catalyst for a series of wars, known now as the Crusades. And there were many of them. The first crusade set a precedence in its success, never to be matched again throughout the remaining crusades. Many lives fought, from trained knights to untrained children; and from the very riches to the very poorest. This speech reached out and touched everybody.
One of the reasons we will be studying the pope’s speech in so much detail is to show the children the power of persuasive writing, the main skill I wish to teach them this year. Also I think it would be very interesting to compare the Pope’s speech to that of Adolf Hitler, for example, when we come to study the world wars. This was propaganda at its best; it struck the hearts of all who heard, both directly or vicariously. Many took up their swords and processed across land and sea to the Middle East:
There are a few different versions of the speech, written by various people in different time scales to the actual speech giving ceremony at Clermont. The main ones can be found here. To introduce the children to Pope Urban’s methods I first had them listen to this version on YouTube. This is an emotional interpretation of Robert the Monk, written about 25 years after the event. I chose both this version and a more sedate rendition, written by the chronicler Fulcher of Chartres. I wanted the children to be familiar with Fulcher’s version because he wrote from his own experience of having been at the council at Clermont. His is not based on the Gesta account (unlike all the others) and it was written only 5-10 years after the event. All in all, this makes it a good primary evidence source to study. It differs widely from the more emotive, forthright version from Robert the Monk, yet contains enough persuasive material to get our teeth into. While I prepared our roast dinner, I got two of the children washing and drying up whilst the third read out a couple of paragraphs of the speech. Then they swapped round, until all the speech had been read (most passionately I might add!), after which we settled in the living room for a bit of chat about Fulcher’s version.
Discussing anything with my children has to be one of my favourite past times. I love hearing their views and always probe them for more. I want them to tell me why and to give examples and reasons to back up their views. All views are acceptable, so long as they can be substantiated. I asked each child to give me their initial response and to explain why they felt that way. Each had their own copy of the speech in their hot little hands.
C10 commented that the pope was claiming things that were Biblically untrue. She gave the example of the Pope having the right to grant ‘immediate remission of sins’ and said that the Bible was clear that only Jesus could do that. L10 thought it was interesting that the pope doesn’t mention the reason for his speech (to garner support and fighters for his holy war) until after he has ensured the council have purged themselves (with his help) of anything which might prevent them from doing their (perceived) duty to God (to support and fight in his holy war). She also felt the speech was clever because Urban would have been a very learned man in terms of the Bible as well as being highly respected so it was likely that those he spoke to may have simply accepted his word as gospel. T11 pointed out that it seemed he had elevated himself to a position as an equal to Christ. He used the quotes ‘On this account, I, or rather the Lord…’; ‘I say this….Moreover Christ commands it’ ; ‘have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested’ and ‘You must especially let all matters that pertain to the church be controlled by the law of the church’ T11 felt this was quite ingenious because he was using this power to do that which ultimately was his will and that of the Byzantine Emperor, rather than any explicitly expressed wish of God.
We would continue this in a formal Historical discussion I had prearranged later in the week. For now I thought we’d have a bit of light-hearted (but none the less educational) fun.
One of the children’s projects linked to this speech was to design and make a poster calling all Europeans to fight the good fight to regain control of the Holy Lands. The purpose of a project like this was two-fold. Firstly they would need to use the persuasive techniques they had learnt so far to make the poster effective, and secondly I wanted to introduce them to the term propaganda. Half of our historical discussion would be based on war propaganda and its associated power. Thus I wanted the children to make sure their poster was full on propaganda!
Bearing in mind we’ve only been studying this since Monday, I was so pleased by all their ideas. In many ways home schooling gets harder as the children get older. Certainly the issues become more complicated and meeting everybody’s needs is much harder. That said, I can’t begin to express how much fun it is. I am blessed with fairly out spoken children, who can and do hold their own in a conversation. Because we all spend so much time with each other and because I am married to an Irish man there is a whole lot of teasing and joking that goes on. Just the last year or so, they are becoming more assertive and confident about their contributions to our little school.
Whilst we were doing this project I just sat back in wonder, enjoying the to-ing and fro-ing of ideas. I had shown them a collection of propaganda posters designed during the second world war to persuade young men to sign up. We chatted about how effective each was and what it was that made them so. The children decided that as the crusades have become known as the religious wars, a cross might be in order. L10, who has just started to show an artistic flair, is able to visualise exactly what it is she wants and can explain very clearly what that is. So when the idea of a cross came up she immediately started the ideas rolling, saying it needed to be golden, 3 dimensional not flat, with the depth a different colour. She wanted it to be a curved cross to show the beauty of the church, a deep gold to represent the virtue of going on the crusades, and decorated to high heaven to represent the riches available in Heaven to those who were willing to fight for the Holy lands. This was good stuff. Very, very specific:
The others immediately became caught up with the idea and suggestions flew around about the wordings. They wanted to reflect the nuances of Pope Urban’s speech. I offered to photocopy any poignant words and phrases to cut out and stick to the cross. I printed them on red paper to represent the blood. The cross was then decorated with jewels:
As for the larger writing they came up with a few choices. The first was to play on the fear of the people and their own likelihood of getting to Heaven….something along the lines of “Earn yourself a place in Heaven…fight to save the Holy Lands!”. The second was appealing to a human’s need to be needed: “God needs YOU”. This was based on one of the posters they had seen:
Eventually they chose to replicate some of the popes speech, but in Latin! So the first part said “The Holy land needs YOU….” followed by “….Deus Vult!” which means God wills it! We had seen the latin on a report type piece written about Urban’s speech and the children just thought to put it in our poster would be so cool! These were also the last few words spoken before Urban ended his speech. We painted some white card with silver acrylic, left it to dry and then cut out the letters from the card. We made the Y of you stand out by cutting out three swords and combining them to form the Y. Here is the final poster. We were all so, so pleased:
This poster, alongside another project which we are currently in the middle of, will be displayed at our very own Council of Clermont, to be held at the end of the week, when the children will be giving their own rendition of Urban’s speech.
I needed to split up this post into two parts because it was getting a little long (!) Tomorrow I will share the rest of the activities we did, alongside our historical discussion .